Ketchikan Daily News: Shipyard christens MV Susitna

More than 500 people gathered on the Ketchikan Shipyard's Drydock No. 1 on Friday morning for a dual ceremony to christen the M/V Susitna and commemorate the keel-laying for the MV Ken Eichner II.

Both projects involve Alaska Ship and Drydock, the Ketchikan-based company that operates the Ketchikan Shipyard.

Friday morning's chill winds and cloudy skies couldn't cool the enthusiasm displayed by the speakers who delivered their remarks from a platform dwarfed by the twin-hulled, 195-foot Susitna, which was on the drydock also.

"This is a great day," said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer, voicing a central theme that was taken up by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, later in the program.

"This is our ship, built in our town, with our people," said Murkowski, who was born in Ketchikan. "Doesn't that make you feel great?"

In 2006, Murkowski had participated in the keel-laying ceremony for the Susitna. She said Friday that the morning's dual events were a tribute to Ketchikan and what has been created here.

"Not only are we christening this incredible ship, the Susitna, but also today we're laying the keel of the Ken Eichner II. And with these two vessels, we're really celebrating the success of the (Alaska) Ship and Drydock," Murkowksi said. "So many of you, through your product today, have demonstrated what can happen in Ketchikan, Alaska."

The MV Susitna is a first-of-its-kind experimental vessel built through a collaborative effort between the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska Ship and Drydock.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough will own the approximately $70 million vessel (which was funded through Congress and the Office of Naval Research) and plans to operate it as a ferry in the Knik Arm area of upper Cook Inlet, between Anchorage and Port MacKenzie.

The 116.5-foot Ken Eichner II will operate as one of two Ketchikan Gateway Borough airport ferries. The approximately $7.5 million ferry will be replacing the MV Bob Ellis on the short run across Tongass Narrows between Revillagigedo and Gravina Islands.

In addition to Kiffer and Murkowski, speakers at Friday's event included Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell; Rear Adm. Nevin P. Carr Jr., chief of the Office of Naval Research; Mat-Su Borough Mayor Talis Colberg; and Alaska Ship and Drydock President Randy Johnson.

The audience included a number of state legislators, former Gov. Frank Murkowski and his wife, Nancy Murkowski; representatives of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, and of the wide variety of vendors and other firms that worked on the Susitna project. In addition, there were many ASD personnel and Ketchikan community members in attendance.

With Doug Ward, ASD's director of shipyard development, as master of ceremonies, the event opened with a Tlingit welcome by Irene Dundas, followed by the national anthem, sung by Linda Friede.

The invocation was given by the Rev. Ed Penisten of Holy Name Catholic Church.

Randy Johnson was the first speaker. He acknowledged the "tremendous support" the shipyard had received from the start of the Susitna project, which he described at times as complex, difficult and challenging.

He credited the Office of Naval Research, Mat-Su Borough, Guido Perla and Associates (naval architects), the many venders involved, and the ASD workforce as being part of the "remarkable teamwork" that helped ASD reach the milestone of the commissioning the Susitna.

Among the ASD personnel mentioned by Johnson were Bob Burke, dock master; Alan Coffin, senior project manager; Jim Pinckney, production supervisor; Glenn Miller, structural foreman; Norm Skan, mechanical foreman; Jack Jarmonsky, coatings lead; and Andy Pringle.

ASD personnel developed several new manufacturing techniques and innovative use of equipment for the project, which incorporated at least six different thicknesses and several different grades of steel to form the complicated geometry of its hull.

"I don't know of another shipyard that could have done it," Johnson said. We're proud to say everything was built to the highest quality standards."

Johnson's pride in the result was evident at the start of his remarks when he gave the audience a sense of the new vessel's place in the maritime world.

"Today I stand before you in front of one of the most unique, advanced ships built in our time," Johnson said. "A ship that will demonstrate to the world science and technology capabilities that have never existed in another ship before. A ship that will revolutionize the way that our military and commercial operators operate in shallow waters around the globe."
Later, Rear Adm. Nevin Carr of the Office of Naval Research described the Susitna as the "first transformable multi-hull variable draft ship with waterjet propulsion and ice cutting capabilities."

The Navy is interested in the design for its potential to transport personnel and equipment from sea-based ships to shore, in addition to its ability to operate in ice and other difficult positions.

The Susitna carries a sophisticated array of sensors that will supply data about the ship's operation to the Office of Naval Research during the next five years.

Carr said the Susitna has a lot of capabilities, and the only way to know whether a vessel can do the things it's designed to do is through testing.

He described the upper Cook Inlet, with its extreme winds, tides and currents, as the best laboratory in which to test the Susitna.

"This ship has got to be tough, and I know the Navy will get its money's worth," Carr said.

He said everyone involved in the project faced multiple challenges that required innovative solutions.

"Innovation in America's small shipyards is alive and well, especially here in Ketchikan," Carr said. "With the Susitna, you made important contributions to the domestic new ship construction industry, due in no small measure, I'm sure, to your pioneering spirit as Alaskans and the tenacity to endure under tough conditions."

During a press conference prior to the event, Parnell, too, praised Alaska Ship and Drydock's work on the Susitna.

"This vessel, this effort by Alaska Ship and Drydock, will demonstrate that an Alaska-led company, Alaska workers, can build a quality product with innovative practices - and do it in great collaboration across several agencies," Parnell said. "That's a win-win for everybody. It's a positive win for Alaska Ship and Drydock that builds their reputation for Alaska ship building."

Mat-Su Borough Mayor Colberg used a portion of his remarks to give credit to Mat-Su Borough Manager John Duffy.

Colberg said Duffy had been instrumental in putting the process of obtaining a ferry together over the past decade, slowly and carefully - and at times in the face of criticism- that laid the foundation that helped make the Susitna project possible.

While less complex than the prototypical Susitna, the MV Ken Eichner II will have a big impact for Ketchikan residents and visitors once it begins service next year.

The airport ferry is named after Ken Eichner, the legendary helicopter pilot, founder of TEMSCO Helicopters, and co-founder of the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad. He died in 2007, at the age of 88.

"This is special to us," Johnson said, "We're all proud for the opportunity to build the ship that bears Ken's name."
Johnson presented the MV Ken Eichner II nameplate to Peggy Eichner, Ken Eichner's wife of more than 60 years, while other members of the Eichner family looked on.

Later in the program, Kiffer said it was a great day for the Eichner family, "because no one cared as much about Ketchikan and worked as hard through his life to make Ketchikan what it is."

Murkowski said that Eichner's name "will be remembered to all of us and tens of thousands of visitors as we go back and forth across the narrows to our airport."

As Friday's event neared its conclusion, a sprinkling of rain began to fall occasionally while the Cape Fox Dancers performed several dances in front of the stage.

As they danced, the center deck of the Susitna was raised slowly about 10 feet or more to demonstrate one of the vessel's primary innovations.

Then, Murkowski, accompanied by Johnson, broke the ceremonial bottle of champagne on the bow of the Susitna's port-side twin hull.

Parnell, who was scheduled to sign several pieces of legislation during the ceremony, decided to forego the signings and abbreviated his remarks because of the cold weather (he signed the bills directly after the ceremony).

"I couldn't be more proud of Ketchikan, Metlakatla and all of the surrounding communities that contributed workers to this project," Parnell said.

He said Alaska Ship and Drydock's work on the Susitna project has earned the company an international reputation that will carry it into future projects.

"You talk about building a ferry here for the (Alaska) Marine Highway System," Parnell said. "You've demonstrated that you can compete, you can construct, and you can complete. So let's make that happen."

The State of Alaska now has about $120 million in hand to build the first Alaska Class ferry for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Earlier in the program, Johnson had mentioned that planned additions to the Ketchikan Shipyard will help ASD be prepared and successful in being able to build the Alaska Class ferry here.

"We really think that the shipyard is ready to take on that challenge," Johnson said.

After the ceremony, a large percentage of the attendees adjourned to a luncheon at the Ted Ferry Civic Center - departing the shipyard just as rain began to fall in earnest.

Part of that event included recorded video greetings from Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who were unable to be in Ketchikan on Friday.

There also was a video greeting from former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, a consistent supporter of the Susitna project.

Stevens said he was sad not to be able to attend, "because as you all know, we've worked a long time on this.

"This is really the first major vessel to be built in Alaska," Stevens said.

In addition to Duffy, Stevens praised ASD and shipyard owner Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for doing a "grand job."

Alaska has an absolute need to build its own vessels, he said, given that Alaska accounts for about one-half of the U.S. coastline and has a large amount of maritime activity.

Stevens added that the Susitna project is demonstrating the commitment of Alaskans to work together.

"This is really a magnificent achievement," he said.

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Source: By Scott Bowlen. Published June 12, 2010